Red Dress: A novel – a light-hearted story about work/life balance, or a spiritual manual that rebrands God?
By Bridget Finklaire author of Red Dress - A novel
It was a miserable winter's day in June. Yes, June 2013, my first Cape Winter. Cradling a hot mug of tea, I imagined the book I'd been guided to write. I had no idea where to start. At the beginning? I began at the end with a vision of what I wanted to create – a light-hearted, engaging story that shared pearls of wisdom without them sounding stuffy or opinionated. I resisted getting into the 'how?'
Outside, the rain lashed against the Cape of Good Hope. Inside was cold. Few houses in South Africa have central heating. I had a small gas heater and several layers of clothing. I remember the fingerless gloves, the scarf, and the two pairs of socks which made my boots tight.
I closed my eyes, relaxed, and became aware of my breath and the weight of my clothes. In my mind, I stepped into the end result of the finished book, chose it aloud, opened my eyes and started typing. I had no idea what would emerge. What the hell was I doing? I was a therapist, coach and spiritual teacher. I knew nothing about writing novels!
Sentences spilt out. The setting was a family home in London. A stressed-out mother, wife and therapist reminded me of my former self. I needed a name for the character. I'd call her Kirsty after the friend I'd just been chatting to. That would do. If I stopped to think, I'd lose my nerve. A few hours later, the rain subsided. Only mad dogs and Englishwomen go out in a Cape Town storm. The southeaster whistled me along an empty beach, slapping at me in gusts. I'd change the name to Katy. Give her an identity of her own. It couldn't be autobiographical; I had to make it fiction. I started to think about the story, the characters, the setting. Ideas bubbled. I wrote most days for a couple of months before meeting the man who was to become my husband, but that's another story.
I completed the first draft, a series of vignettes linked by a narrator who seemed to be teaching lessons in psychology and metaphysics. I put it on hold while we planned our wedding and built our home. I went through menopause and almost burned out again.
It took me seven years, several mentoring sessions, and a steep learning curve to complete Red Dress. I had to re-structure, re-write, edit and polish before publication. It's been described as the new Eat, Pray, Love. I'd say it has a touch of Bridget Jones about it.
Red Dress is about a 40-something career mum who seems to have it all but is falling apart. On the outside, her life is beautiful. On the inside, it's painful. Her marriage is dysfunctional, and she's time-starved. Red Dress is set in London, where I lived for 30 years.
Turnham Green was the ideal place for Katy to live. It has 'green' in the title – a theme that runs through the book – and it suited Richard (her husband) - 'Turnham Green with Envy' he would think!
Like Katy, I worked in Harley Street. I meditate, do yoga, and eat dark chocolate. I used to be in a dysfunctional marriage, and I've heard many client stories about challenging relationships. I've almost burned out twice, and time is my biggest challenge! My life in Cape Town is teaching me to slow down and appreciate stillness.
I know women who struggle with work/life balance. Some are in destructive relationships or feel trapped at work. Others have lost sight of who they are and what they want. They've spent their lives giving to others, working for others, or caring for others. Some women are kind and loving but wind up with emotionally abusive partners. I want to say to them, "Read the book!" because many of the answers are there.
Primarily aimed at women age 30+, I wanted to offer a light, page-turning story that had the potential to make them think or gain insight into some aspect of their lives. If readers take away one nugget, I'll be delighted.
Red Dress can be read on different levels. You can take it as an entertaining novel about a married career mum who's unhappy. She dabbles in alternative ideas and meets someone from the past who adds a new dimension, but how far will she go? One of the signs she's given is song lyrics, which I couldn't include for copyright reasons. Will you guess them from the context? Will you laugh at Katy’s reactions to her unfolding adventure?
On another level, Red Dress is a story of personal development and discovery. Who is the authentic Katy? What has she become, who was she before and what does she yearn to be? Is Katy being true to herself? Has she compromised too far, and if so, what can she do? Can she rediscover her core values and live in alignment? Katy's journey is an invitation to explore your own life.
On a deeper level, Red Dress is a study of destructive relationship dynamics and dysfunction. Richard has a personality disorder, Katy is co-dependent, and a third character is a sex and love addict. These are toxic relationship dynamics that commonly play out in real life. Engagingly, Red Dress explores a spiritual awakening, alternative healing, therapy and the 12-step programme as ways to overcome dysfunctional and painful relationships with self, with others and with addiction. The psychotherapy sequences are authentic, as are all the approaches and ideas within the book. They are based on 25 years of experience as a therapist, spiritual student and teacher.
Red Dress is also an instruction manual for spiritual awakening and a rebranding of God! Katy unexpectedly hands her life over to God, in whom she doesn't believe (the G-Word). A series of coincidences, signposts, dreams and chance meetings follow. She encounters 'The Voice' – a loving mentor who shares wisdom and truth. Katy embarks on an external path of spiritual searching and an internal quest to reconnect with her heart and soul. Does she learn to listen to her intuition and trust the small voice within? Will she have the courage to step out of her uncomfortable 'comfort zone'?
Everything in Red Dress is accurate, from the Voice's wisdom to the meditation that Katy practises. It could be used as a handbook for mind, body and spirit. It includes yoga, breathwork, Sanskrit chants, and other spiritual concepts. The modalities are authentic, and you can investigate them for yourself if you're curious.
Red Dress is the first in a trilogy of books that charts Katy's transformation to a life of authenticity, fulfilment and meaning. She takes the journey for us, showing us how to turn a life around. Each of the three books showcases a different stage in the process of creating what you love.
I hope Red Dress inspires you, makes you laugh, and provides you with food for thought. If it does, I'll have created my vision of a novel that's engaging and light-hearted yet packed with wisdom and truth.
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